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EU Commission seeks more smoking bans

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(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission is next week to launch a wide debate on increasing smoke-free areas throughout the bloc, holding up as examples countries like Ireland where the public ban is deemed a great success.

"All the countries that have introduced banning measures in public areas also have the highest level of support," for the measures, said Philip Tod, spokesman for the EU health commissioner, pointing particularly to Ireland, Italy, Malta and Sweden.

The EU's executive arm will on Tuesday put forward a consultative green paper on smoke-free areas following a study of those countries where a smoking ban in public places is already in place.

"We have seen that there is a certain 'magnetic effect' since Ireland introduced its smoking ban for all public areas ... (in 2004) that was very successful so there are many countries that have done something similar," Tod told reporters.

The Commission cited figures showing that adults who are in daily contact with a smoker increase their mortality rate by 15 percent, even if they have never smoked.

The intention of next week's green paper, which EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou will introduce on Tuesday, is "to explore both legal mechanisms and health promotion initiatives at both European and member state level".

Currently the most comprehensive smoking bans are in place in Ireland and Scotland, with the rest of Britain set to follow suit this summer.

Smoking bans which allow for enclosed and separately ventilated smoking areas in bars and restaurants are in place in Italy, Sweden and Malta, and are due to begin in Estonia and Finland by June and in France next year.

France will next week introduce a formal smoking ban in public places such as libraries, hospital and offices.

Other nations, including Belgium, Cyprus, Lithuania, Spain, Slovenia and the Netherlands have smoking bans with various exceptions while most EU member states have bans or restrictions in major public buildings.

"The goal of the green paper is to promote debate on the issue and to seek views from government, MEPs and other interested parties on what role if any the EU could play," said Tod.

A report published last year showed that nearly 80,000 people die in what was then a 25-nation EU each year as a result of passive smoking.

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